What can be said about energy-policy improvements from the administration of a president who
brags on television about being “like, really smart?”
Does the behavior invalidate the policy? To that
question, Democratic opponents of President Donald Trump of course have a ready and distracting
Timing of the latest improvement to energy
policy is unfortunate. While the Department of the
Interior was issuing a draft proposal to open 90%
of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas leasing during 2019-24, attention focused on a sensational book about life inside the White House
over the past year. Analysis of the leasing draft
inevitably became overwhelmed by a new surge
of speculation about Trump’s fitness for office.
Trump characteristically responded by boasting of
his stability and intellectual superiority, making
even supporters cringe. Alas, Trump acts how he
acts. How he acts might not be how many people
were taught to act when they were children. But he
will not change. And he’s the president.
Interior’s proposal represents the latest in a series
of efforts over the past year to rescue energy from
federal imperiousness hostile to hydrocarbons.
It deserves to be examined outside the context of
presidential idiosyncrasy. The department initially
proposed to hold 47 sales, during the planning period, of leases off Alaska, the East and West Coasts,
and Eastern Gulf of Mexico as well as in the currently active Western and Central Gulf. Its move is
as substantial as it is controversial.
The proposal envisions exploration that would
give the US an overdue assessment of most of the
OCS. Whatever production resulted from the effort would boost the economy, raise money for
the federal and coastal-state governments, and
expand domestic supplies of oil and natural gas.
If implemented, the program would be good for
America. That, not Trump’s braggadocio, should
be the standard by which it is judged.
No assurance exists that all or even much of
the envisioned drilling and production will occur,
however. The draft proposed program starts a se-
quence of steps to develop a 5-year leasing plan,
including the drafting of an environmental impact
statement. The process offers many opportunities
for opponents to comment and file lawsuits. Once
a 5-year program is in place, individual lease sales
must survive another cycle of proposals, comment
periods, and environmental reviews. After sales
are held and leases are issued, operators must win
approval for exploration and, if they discover hy-
drocarbons in sufficient amounts, development
States resistant to drilling and production off
their shores have strong leverage under the Coastal Zone Management Act. Individual lease sales
and operators’ plans for exploration and development must be deemed consistent with state plans
for coastal protection required by that law. States
can object to consistency determinations and at
least delay lease sales, or operations under individual leases, with plan adjustments and appeals.
Sometimes, all they must do is fuss. After meeting
with Florida Gov. Rick Scott Jan. 9, Interior Sec.
Ryan Zinke removed the Eastern Gulf from lease-sale planning.
Delays imposed by lawsuits and consistency
disputes increase costs of economically sensitive
offshore work. With oil prices subdued, growth in
oil demand moderating, and oil and gas companies under pressure to return cash to shareholders, the producing industry will approach the
government’s new offshore ambition—and the
environmental fights already developing against
it—cautiously. Odds never favored massive leasing of 90% of the OCS by 2024.
Still, the draft program is welcome and important.
It not only promises benefits generated by OCS exploration and development at some scale but also
reverses costly obstructionism imposed at the end
of Barack Obama’s presidency. By last-minute fiat,
Obama banned leasing on most of the unleased
Interior’s draft does more than revert to normalcy, of course. But overreaction is warranted.
Obama wanted to foreclose activity important to
the country. That he lacked Trump’s penchant for
the baneful blurt doesn’t redeem his baneful approach to energy.
Blurts and policies